21st November 1983 - Mount Pleasant

I hiked to Mount Pleasant from Mount Pleasant House with George L and Mike B on a sunny evening. The south face is nearly vertical but we climbed up from the back which had a gentle slope before some final rock scrambling was necessary. A striated caracara was on the summit.

Fitzroy bridge on 4th December 1983

Fitzroy bridge on 4th December 1983

4th December 1983 - Fitzroy

I went with Martin R and Tony R to see Ron B the farm manager at Fitzroy. After meeting Ron we asked him if it was OK to go to see the bridge further east and the cove with memorials further south. He said it should be OK.

Martin R drove. None of us had much experience of "camp" driving at this stage, but the grass was fine after a very dry winter (June to October) and the peat was firm despite earlier heavy drizzle. We never got into any difficulty except when crossing a stream between Fitzroy and the hill towards the bridge, which Martin took carefully. A few months later we always went with two or more landrovers and got bogged all the time, especially after the next winter which was very wet.

We crossed the river between Fitzroy and the cove which was virtually dry at low tide, although we had no knowledge of tides. In August 1984 Ray K and I got caught by a rising tide and had to cross in fairly deep water.

5th December 1983 - Island Harbour House and Bertha's Beach

Dave O took me and Tom, a Kelvin man, to Island Harbour House and Bertha's Beach.

Bertha's Beach has almost white sand which is really bright on a sunny day and looks like snow. There was a big peat fire about 100 metres from the beach for a length of a kilometre or two, sending heavy smoke across the beach.

There were several gentoo penguin colonies and we could get very close to them. Very smelly, though.

24th December 1983 - Bertha's Beach

I walked to Bertha's Beach with Dave O in the early evening. It was a lovely summer evening and Dave didn't even take an anorak. It must be several kilometres along East Cove to the beach and we walked on ash and burnt hard lumps of "bog wallop" which had been burnt in the peat fire.

On a dune we found the rusty remains of an old car with wooden spoked wheels, a Model T Ford. It was probably better at "camp" driving than our landrovers, being light, softly sprung and with a high ground clearance. An odd place to find it, miles from Island Harbour House and the nearest track.

25th December 1983 - Bertha's Beach again

I hiked to Bertha's Beach again with James M and Dave O. We had intended to go to the mountains to the north but they were in mist and cloud, so we opted for the sunny beach. We walked round to the south part of East Cove beyond Bertha's Beach and sunbathed and swam. The water was a bit cold but the weather was excellent, no wind and strong sun - like the English south coast on a good day. The water was only about two feet deep for a long way out. We saw some elephant seals in the water.

26th December 1983 - Mount Wickham

I hiked from Mount Pleasant to the top of Mount Wickham with James M and Dave O. We drove up to Mount Pleasant on the new haul road to the quartzite quarry and parked just over the brow. Lovely and sunny again and we found some clear rushing streams to wash our faces and refill our water bottles. I had a bit of a problem, though, see Wickham.

31st December 1983 - Darwin, Goose Green and San Carlos

Our first real trip away to Darwin, Goose Green and San Carlos, staying overnight at the Goose Green Camp. I was with Martin R, Tony R, Jim L, Frank S, George L, James M and Dave O.

The track to L'Antioja had already been scraped but not hardcored by the contractors as the water pumping station was to be built at the stream, so the first part was rough but fast on clay. The stretch to Swan Inlet and Darwin was either old clay track (a bit like driving in a continuous clay trench with pools of water to race through throwing water all over the roof) or grass. This track has now been upgraded to a proper gravel road with bridges, possibly even covered in tarmac now, so the old clay and grass track with its fords and potholes is long gone.

Areas around Goose Green barracks were fenced off as mines had not been cleared. After looking round Darwin, Goose Green and the airfield with its pucaras blown up by the SAS, we had a meal at the camp and ended up drinking in the sergeants' mess as it was New Year's Eve.

It was quite dangerous wandering around the camp trying to find our cabin and the toilet block. There were narrow raised timber walkways everywhere but it was pitch dark - no external lighting anywhere so you kept tripping over steps in the walkway or falling off the edge. There were no handholds except some wire guides either side of most gangways so you had to remember "second right, first left" and so on.

There weren't many soldiers around. There was an exercise starting the next day and they were supposed to be in bed early. However, after Jim and I had had a shower at 2.30 am we heard one squaddie continuously shouting blue murder at another one, who replied from the far side of the camp over and over again "What d'yer want me for?" It didn't sound like a friendly exchange but it eventually all went quiet.

Martin R and Dave came in at 4.30 am and we all got some sleep until we woke up with headaches - from the smoke we said. Servicemen always seem to smoke a lot. James and I found that the steering was very loose in our landrover even though it was virtually new, it had about four inches of play but we managed to tighten it up. Breakfast was porridge and greasy bacon.

We set off for San Carlos and passed Darwin again but then took a wrong track and Dave got bogged next to an estuary near Camilla Creek. After fording Camilla Creek further on we got onto a reasonable clay track towards the estuary where Sussex House is, then got onto a another track and found a stream which had some metal strips left to form a bridge. Shortly after that we found some really boggy ground and decided to head straight up the hill towards the top of Sussex Mountains. Later we found another way around the estuary and a ford across Hell's Kitchen.

We found some dugouts on the top of the mountain, presumably Argie ones, with blowpipe cases and an oil drum with an iron bar sticking out of it which looked like a gun from a distance. The run down hill towards San Carlos was OK, then we had a fast dash across a wide estuary splashing through several areas of water and up a very steep hill up into San Carlos.

San Carlos cemetery on 1st January 1984

San Carlos cemetery on 1st January 1984

We walked around a small, pretty settlement and the cemetery, visited the army camp on the other side of the estuary (not the other side of the whole bay where Ajax refrigeration plant was) and then started our return journey. We had been told about another route down to Hell's Kitchen and a local man on a Honda bike passed us and confirmed the route which led down a ridge to the Hell's Kitchen ford. We then followed our previous route to Burntside House, avoided the place where Dave got bogged, and so back to the site.

7th January 1984 - Mount Usborne

George L, Dave O, James M, Frank S, Tony R and I left MPA after work at 4 pm and headed west again. We made good time to Burntside House and Camilla Creek, then found a track off to the right towards Ceritos House. We crossed over a difficult stream and reached the house quite late and found it was a ruin so we headed back across the stream and camped in the valley.

There was a peat stockpile at the house which we used for our camp fire with wood brought from the site. We soaked the ground first to avoid starting a peat fire. For this and future camping trips we got plenty of food from the camp kitchens to take with us. Most of the time we had far too much. Cold tongue, baked beans, thick bread and butter, fruit cake, bacon for breakfast, tea and a wider variety on later trips including oranges when we started getting fresh fruit.

George had brought his camping gaz cooker which was a bonus and also his guitar so we had a noisy evening. We had scrounged some plastic sheeting from the site for groundsheets and generally sitting on. The stars came out and the sky was so clear we watched satellites from horizon to horizon (valley hilltop to valley hilltop). We had brought sleeping bags and waterproof bivvy bags to the Islands as recommended and used them for the first time, on plastic sheeting. Some people made tents of plastic draped from landrovers but I always preferred to lie in the open looking up at the stars.

When I woke the next morning it was already fairly light and there were sheep looking at us and a family of upland geese a few yards away. The mountain had clouds and it looked a bit cold. Athough we had talked of making an early start, people woke late then started the fire and cooking, so the schedule started slipping. Dave O had brought his fishing rod and had caught and baked a trout the previous night and started fishing again for his breakfast. I don't think he was lucky that time.

Nevertheless we were ready to leave at 8 am, the clouds had lifted and the sun was out. We backtracked to a pond and turned off to drive along the side of the mountain to get nearer to the north-western end which seemed to have the peak, parked and climbed from there. When we were near the top Tony R realised he had left his rucksack where we had rested for a tea-break so he had a long walk back down and back up again. How he forgot that I do not know.

Wickham on Mount Usborne on 8th January 1984

Wickham on Mount Usborne on 8th January 1984

We got to the top in strong sunshine and quite a strong wind. I found it difficult to stay steady holding a flag on top of the cairn. There was a book in a metal box for signatures and comments which went back to 1972, many probably UK friends and relations of farmers.

We looked over the north-east side which was basically a precipice 200 to 300 feet high. We heaved huge rocks over the edge with our feet to see if they would reach a pond at the bottom (a few did), had our lunch in the sun then walked further along the flat grassy dome of the mountain south-eastwards.

As we walked back along the north west slope towards the landrovers we came across the remains of a Phantom jet that had crashed in fog on a flight after the war had ended. There was a grave and a memorial there, fencing and mine warnings.

On the return journey we decided to use the ford at Swan Inlet instead of the bridge. There was a bank at the far side which we all managed OK except Frank S who got stuck twice before trying a different place. He took a lot of stick and it was at this time that I started my bog-in ratings list. Martin R got stuck on the same bank on 22nd January 1984.

14th January 1984

- too stormy, horizontal hail and rain so our trip west and around the north of the island was cancelled. It snowed later in the day although it was mid-summer.

Goose Green and Darwin